Unconditional Support Helps Idaho Students Succeed
One year ago, a group of 20 students gathered on the ASUI-Kibbie Activity Center floor, each was filled with inspiration from the Convocation speaker, alumnus Richard Rock. The students didn’t know each other but they were all sharing a common experience — the first day at University of Idaho.
“I am really encouraged for all of you because you have made a fantastic first step on your journey,” Rock told the crowd of freshmen and their families.
The journey for this small group was dangerously close to not happening. All are Vandal Promise Scholarship recipients — students who benefit from donor support to help fill the gap between financial aid and the cost of tuition. The average financial gap for a U of I student is $5,000 a year. The Vandal Promise Scholarship program has the added benefit of peer support, guided by the Dean of Students Office. Students met with advisors once a month to talk about the challenges of college, living away from home and settling into being independent.
“It helped build confidence that I am not alone,” said Jackie Lee, a scholarship recipient from Kuna. “We all have our struggles.”
Cari Fealy, associate dean of students and a Vandal Promise advisor, said the connections made among the students was strong.
“They knew they all had this connection. They all had one thing in common,” Fealy said.
The financial gap is something financial aid advisors have heard about for years; the solution comes from our own alumni and friends who are dedicated to helping students succeed. The Vandal Promise Scholarship is the first large-scale program U of I has strategically applied to need-based Idaho students.
When COVID-19 hit the university in March 2020, the regular Vandal Giving Day focused on raising money for this and similar funds to help students with the unprecedented challenges of a global health crisis. Donors gave nearly $650,000 to help struggling students Vandal On.
“I shouldn’t have been able to attend a major university for my first year, and because of the generosity of a random person, that allowed me to be standing in the Kibbie Dome,” said Travis Kerr, a scholarship recipient. “This was the starting line of what let me go on to U of I.”
The four-sport student from Coeur d’Alene was always interested in science and was pretty good at math. But with his older brother already in college and two younger siblings coming up behind him, paying for college seemed nearly impossible. He was set to go to community college to get his prerequisite classes out of the way when he received word about getting the Vandal Promise Scholarship.
“That made me feel amazing inside,” Kerr said. “All the hours I had put in during high school. I felt like the work was worthwhile.”
For Lee, the scholarship meant not having to work during his freshman year.
“I was concerned I wouldn’t be able to handle both,” said Lee, who worked at his family’s restaurant in Kuna in high school and knew how hard working and going to school can be.
The first cohort is involved in mentoring the second cohort this fall — a program they helped build over the summer.
“They will be able to talk about their experience and work in small groups with the next cohort to share that same first-year experience,” said Fealy. “The goal is to create community.”
Article by Jodi Walker, University Communications and Marketing
Published in the Fall 2020 issue of Here We Have Idaho.